Lunch with Google

January 23, 2012 by  
Filed under Blogs

The funny thing about Google, at least for me, is that my interactions with them generally tend to be significant. The last time I dealt with anyone at Google was about a year ago. I spoke to a man who was head of marketing at Google Middle East about a project they had launched – it was a phone interview arranged through their then PR agency Hill and Knowlton and I remember it being the most boring interview I had ever conducted. It seemed almost silly for someone like Google – it was basically a little website they had developed which told people how to use the Internet. It was pretty rudimentary – a ten year old would have seen it and got bored. That of course, was beside the point, it was aimed at people who weren’t accustomed to PCs and the Internet in general, plus it was in Arabic.

I thought it would be insulting to tell the man at Google that he was wasting my time, so I threw at him some quick questions, all of which he passionately replied to. I didn’t bother publishing the article because I thought it was the most uninteresting thing either Google or anyone else had done. We’re a bit spoilt like that at Tbreak – we’re not ones for basic Internet lessons, we’d rather be spending our time covering the cutting edge of technology, like cars that park themselves or graphic cards that are a mighty 5% faster than its predecessor.

The man who spoke so passionately about what I thought was one of Google’s less impressive projects was Wael Ghonim. In the months that followed, Wael would turn out to be one of the greatest heroes of the Egyptian revolution and one of Time Magazine’s most influential men of 2011.

I’ve kicked myself a few times for not publishing that article. So, when Google invited me to meet them over lunch, I was excited. Plus, it was an opportunity to meet some of UAE’s most prominent bloggers. The list included Paz Marketing’s  Joe Akkawi, Omar Abu Omar from Cobone, Emirati blogger Sultan Al Qassemi, Gradberry’s Iba Masood, Clique Media’s Bhavishya Kanjhan, MEED’s Triska Hamid and Samer from Jazarah.net.

A few months ago, I wrote about how Google was turning into the next Microsoft. In many ways, I still believe it is. However, the thing about Google is that its technology empowers people to do extraordinary things. Whether it’s the free Google Docs, which empower people like the folks at Tbreak to collaborate on projects or more significantly like conducting interviews of political candidates in Egypt, so people can form informed opinions for themselves. A seminar which preceded lunch covered what Google was doing in the Middle East.

Over lunch, I talked to Ari Kesisoglu, MD of Google MENA, about how we use Google products in our daily work lives and how much it has helped us as a business. I did, however, complain about how we provide YouTube with all the latest technology interviews and product reviews and it was about time content producers received revenue for their efforts, just like people in the US do. “We’ll have some news about that soon,” he said with a smirk.

It’s refreshing to see how much interest Google is showing in this region and even more so that they’re listening to the digital media. They took the time to talk to all the bloggers, replying to every query thrown their way. Maybe they’re not turning into Microsoft after all.

Apps and online etiquette to help you through Ramadan

August 1, 2011 by  
Filed under Blogs

The holy month of Ramadan is upon us. If you’re Muslim, this means it’s a month of fasting and humility. For those of you who are not Muslim, here are some suggestions from your friendly tech geeks at Tbreak on how to lead a humble online life during the month of Ramadan.

Things you should not do online during Ramadan:
1. Do not post your bikini pictures as your Facebook profile picture this month (Please be appropriate and save them for Eid instead)
2. Do not swear on Twitter
3. Keep your Facebook Status updates and Tweets PG13.
4. Avoid playing video games with a lot of swear words, especially if you’re playing the game in a public place.
5. If you’ve purchased a copy of Stuff Magazine to read the latest tech articles, please refrain from staring at all the hot, half-naked girls till Eid.

On a different note, here’s a list of apps that you might find useful this month:

Call To Pray
BlackBerry/Free
Call to Pray is a free application that provides prayer timings based on your country and will also show you the direction of the Qilba, based on your current location. You also have access to both the Hijri and Gregorian calendars. Plus, you can share prayer times over BBM, SMS, email or Facebook.

Yahoo! Maktoob Ramadan
iPad and iPhone/Free
Yahoo! Maktoob have come up with a app for the iPhone and iPad that lets you check out prayer timings and gives you loads of Ramadan food recipes to try out. The app automatically detects your location and customizes content depending on where you’re located. Plus, there’s plenty of Ramadan-centric content from Yahoo! Maktoob for you to look through. Plenty of similar apps are available on the App Store but this one’s free to download.

Quran App
BlackBerry/Free
The Holy Quran is available for the Blackberry as a free download. If you’re using an iPad there are plenty of similar applications available such as  Quran Explorer.

Time Out Dubai
iPad and iPhone/Free
If you’re not fasting this month and want to find out what’s open in terms of restaurants and venues, download Time Out Dubai’s application to keep track of your favourite hangouts and when they’re open. There’s also a great list of Iftars to try out and some Dos and Don’ts during the month of Ramadan.

GoNabit acquisition great news for UAE’s E-commerce industry

June 29, 2011 by  
Filed under Blogs

The UAE E-commerce industry has certainly come of age. What was nearly a barren space two years ago is now flooded with exciting new start-ups all keen on cashing in on E-commerce. And there are a number of things that make E-commerce exciting for startups in this part of the world. Firstly, there’s the low set-up costs compared to brick and mortar ventures. It would cost you about ten times as much to open a shop in a major mall in Dubai. Let’s not forget the fact that there are plenty of great Open Source software out on the web that can help you set up an online service for free or at very little cost. Second, there are lesser regulations on the online world compared to traditional commerce. There’s a lot less paperwork involved into setting up an online store and you’re less prone to regular inspection from the authorities if you’re business is entirely online. Third, online penetration in the UAE and the Middle East as a whole is on the rise. Broadband connections are fairly common and a fair amount of people now have a data plan on their mobiles. Finally, the fact that there’s a limited amount of companies offering E-commerce services to the Middle East means that there’s plenty of users online hungry for better online services.

Two years ago when I met GoNabit’s founder Dan Stuart, he was working with UAE’s top recruitment site Bayt.com as Chief Possibility Officer. We were in the process of taking Tbreak commercial at the time and Dan was helping us find a way to better monetize our business. Dan mentioned at the time that he was working on an E-commerce venture. He didn’t say what it was but I could tell it was something exciting. As it turns out it was GoNabit and barely two years since its launch, the site has achieved major success and has been acquired by Living Social, one of GroupOn’s largest competitors.

This is certainly exciting news, not just for Dan but the entire E-commerce industry in the region. It’s a sign that not only is there a viable E-commerce industry in the region but its big enough that global players are starting to take notice. This will probably mean that the tens of emerging GroupOn clones that have emerged lately will probably turn into hundreds as more people try to follow GoNabit’s success. But that’s just good news for consumers who will get better deals.

10 Amazing Google Guitar Songs

June 12, 2011 by  
Filed under Features, Spotlight

To commemorate the birthday of American jazz and country guitarist Les Paul, Google created a special homepage where you could either press keys or mouse over stings displayed on the homepage to create music. The doodle was live on 9th June 2011 and it’s easily the best doodle we’ve seen till date. In fact, it was so good that Google has given it a permanent page here:

http://www.google.com/logos/2011/lespaul.html

Because it was a slow news day, To celebrate this awesome doodle, we’ve put together a list of 10 great songs you can play simply by pressing a few keys on your keyboard in order. Go ahead and give it a try and apologies in advance for the Titanic theme. Go to the next page to check them out.

The future is a Pad-Phone-PC-Laptop

June 6, 2011 by  
Filed under Blogs

Isn’t it about time we had one device that can be a mobile phone, laptop, tablet and PC all at the same time? If you really think about it, mobile phones these days are about as powerful as full fledged PCs were a couple of years ago. Why then, do we need to buy four different devices, when you have all that processing power in your phone?

The ASUS PadFone

If you really think about it, your mobile phone could easily power most of your computing devices. But what about the form factor, you ask? It’s too impractical to have a 7″, 10″ or 24″ mobile? We’ll, you don’t need a phone that big. All you would need is a dock for different devices. So, that’s one powerful smartphone to act as your processor and then a simple dock for your laptop, tablet and PC.

The advantage to such a device is multifold. One, if you ever felt the need to upgrade your hardware, you could simply get a new phone and you’d have four faster devices. That goes for the operating system too — one upgrade is all you need. A second advantage is that you would have your data all the time — no more having to copy files from a PC to laptop to phone — it’s all in one place. Let’s not forget the huge cost benefit as well. It will surely be cheaper buying a laptop pod than a full-fledged laptop.

Of course, while I state this, I can hear all the arguments against it in my head. Why would PC and Laptop manufacturers want to sell less computers by creating such a device? Mobile phones will never be as powerful as PCs. I won’t be able to play Diablo 3 on a mobile phone when it releases, and so on. And of course, when I suggested such a device a few years ago to David Reeves, ex CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment Europe, he said, “What if you lost your phone with all your data? It would be the end of your world.”

In reply to the naysayers, cloud backups are easily available for data. Phones will get more powerful and with processors getting smaller and smaller, one day you’ll easily be able to play the likes of Diablo 3 on your phone (if Blizzard eventually releases it).

A glimpse of the future is already here. Recently, ASUS announced the PadFone, a mobile phone that can be placed in a tablet dock to be used as a tablet device. The Motorola Xoom comes with a similar capability where it can be placed on a special laptop dock to function as a laptop. All steps in the right direction. Steps that will hopefully lead to the Pad-Phone-PC-Laptop.

DemoCamp April 2011 Coverage

May 4, 2011 by  
Filed under Features, Spotlight

Tbreak was invited to attend the first DemoCamp of 2011 and this time around the venue was changed from Knowledge Village to the American University of Dubai. Organized by Dubai Internet City, DemoCamp is a means of showcasing promising technology products developed in the UAE to entrepreneurs and the media.

The Question Company's Andrew Meikle and James Oliver

The event was presented by Andrew Meikle and James Oliver, the guys behind The Question Company, a UAE-based text-based question and answer service. They ran through a quick five minute introduction of DemoCamp and then indulged in some shameless self-promotion for their company – all in good fun. Their introduction was followed by Rami Osman from Qualcomm taking to the stage and explaining how Qualcomm was an industry leader in Wireless Technology and Innovation, only to be thwarted by a storm of counter-claims from an audience member forcefully stating that Qualcomm was not an industry leader but simply an industry follower. The guys from The Question Company then stepped in to save Rami from the barrage of questions and help the event move on to what’s really important – the demos.

SanDisk Extreme Pro SDHC UHS –I Card 8GB

April 24, 2011 by  
Filed under Articles, Quick Look

Recently, I shelled out over Dhs3,000 for a Canon 550D which came with everything an amateur photographer could need including a tripod, carry case and SDHC card. This generally makes for a great start but as you get better with the camera and start appreciating its features, you’ll want to get more out of it, whether it’s getting better lenses for better quality pictures or getting a better SDHC card for better performance.

One of the problems with the standard SDHC card that came with the camera was that it was a Class 4 specification, which meant that I couldn’t use the camera to record videos of over 5 seconds. This meant that if I wanted to record videos and I obviously did, I had to upgrade to a higher class SDHC card.

Hence, we take a look at the SanDisk Extreme Pro SDHC UHS –I Card 8GB – the top of the range card available from Sandisk at the moment. Here are some features that make it stand out:

Up to 45 MB/s (300X read/write) speeds
What this means that when you snap pictures or take videos, it writes to the card much faster than a standard SHDC card. Where this makes a big difference in particular is when you take burst shots on your camera. It also means that you can transfer files faster to your computer. If you’re like me and usually have hundreds of pictures on your memory card at any given time, you’ll appreciate how fast it is to load up and transfer.

Full HD video
UHS Speed Class 1 is pretty much the fastest at the moment and makes for some awesome full HD videos.

Temperature proof, water proof, shock proof, and x-ray proof
This means you can take it out to the desert and take pictures in extreme conditions without worrying about damaging your SD card.

Overall, the SanDisk Extreme Pro SDHC UHS-I card is a worthy upgrade if you want better performance and video out of your new DSLR or camcorder. The transfer speeds are brilliant and this card really shines when it comes to burst shots.

Sennheiser HD 800

April 13, 2011 by  
Filed under Product of the Week

Putting on the Sennheiser HD 800 and playing a song is like listening to the music without feeling confined, as if in open space. As if you’re right next to the source. The subtlety with which every beat is carried over the airwaves to the ear makes this a very personal experience.

Read our review of the Sennheiser HD 800.

Bring on the Superbus

April 13, 2011 by  
Filed under Articles, Blogs, Spotlight

It’s been a pretty gloomy couple of months in terms of Middle Eastern news but one things that stood out as a silver lining is news of the Superbus being tested for feasibility as a sustainable means of transport.

Superbus

For those of you who haven’t heard about the Superbus yet, it’s a cross between a limousine and bus. It can carry 23 people and travels at 250 km/h. Which means you can get between Dubai and Abu Dhabi in about thirty minutes.

Considering I live in Dubai and work in Abu Dhabi, I have to travel back and forth every day and I couldn’t be happier about the process of driving to and fro being cut down to a mere 30 minutes. Sure, it will take a few more minutes to get to the (Super) bus stop but it will still be worth it. Plus, if it’s traveling at such high speeds, such a mode of transport would requite it’s own lane of course and that will just mean you don’t have to put up with the speeding maniacs who frequent the Dubai-Abu Dhabi highway.

As an added bonus, the Superbus looks pretty cool. If someone took the Batmobile added gull wing doors to it and stretched it out to the size of a massive limo, it would pretty much look like the Superbus. Add to that, the comfort of the vehicle is comparable to that of a luxury sedan. The vehicle is electric and previous tests indicate that it has a range of 130 miles, which should be plenty for a one-way trip from Dubai to Abu Dhabi.

What remains to be seen is if it can be made affordable enough for the general businessmen and if it is safe to use. Even if it isn’t, wouldn’t it be a helluva way to die?

Grouping up group buying websites

April 13, 2011 by  
Filed under Articles, Features

One of the biggest things to happen to the e-commerce industry in the region has been the emergence and success of group buying websites. Cobone, GoNabit and the like have been instrumental in pushing consumers to go online in search of great bargains. However, with many more websites getting on the group buying bandwagon, it’s becoming increasingly annoying to have to subscribe to each and everyone, only to be littered with loads of emails every morning.

The Deal Space

Tackling this problem and giving you access to all the great deals in one place is The Deal Space (www.thedealspace.com). Created by Jiten Menda, an ex-IBM Project Management and ERP specialist, the site is a mash-up of various group buying sites including Cobone, GoNabit and dealgobbler.com.

We caught up with Jiten to talk to him about his website.

Tbreak.com: What is The Deal Space?

The Deal Space is the first daily deal aggregation service in the Middle East currently featuring deals from Cobone, GoNabit & dealgobbler.com. We all love daily deals, but it isn’t the most convenient to have to sift through 3-4 emails or websites every morning to see if there are any deals that interest you. Signing up with The Deal Space gives you access to one page with all the active deals from all of these websites. In addition, you can pick the kinds of deals you want to see and how often you want to receive emails about them. For example, as a guy, I really don’t care about women’s hair treatment or mani-pedi deals but I used to have go through them almost everyday anyway! Now I just get one email a day with deals that are relevant to me with the stuff I like.

Tbreak.com: How does The Deal Space work?

It’s fairly simple and straight-forward. You register on the site with your email address, then you select the different categories of deals that you are interested in, be it restaurants, water sports, massages or all of them, and that’s it! The rest is done by The Deal Space; it checks all the hosted deal websites for new deals or changes to current deals multiple times every hour and brings you the updates via the website or email based on your preferences. Once you click on any of the deals on The Deal Space, it takes you directly to that deal on the respective daily deal website where you can grab the deal just like you normally would. The Deal Space simply acts as a convenience window or portal to all the deals currently available.

Tbreak.com: Which websites does it currently feature deals from? Are there any expansion plans?

Currently, I’ve launched The Deal Space featuring deals from Cobone, GoNabit and dealgobbler.com. I am in the process of adding a couple of other deal-related websites which should be live within a week. Along with providing the convenience of having as many active deals listed on the website as possible, I take it as my responsibility to ensure that the websites hosted are well-established and are in good standing. There are at least a handful of other high potential deal websites out there, which I will add when the time is right both for themselves and for The Deal Space.

We’re also assessing the deal space (no pun intended) in other cities in the Middle East to find out where else the community can benefit from a deal aggregator. Many of these cities only have one or two daily deal websites which doesn’t warrant the need for an aggregator just yet. But we’ve noticed some room for expansion and will be setting up to cater to the daily deal community in those cities soon.

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